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Screening Programmes Saving Lives in Greater Glasgow and Clyde

January 04, 2008 11:40 AM

Newborn babies who might otherwise have suffered serious illness are now living healthy lives thanks to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde's screening programmes.

The latest annual report from the health board's Public Health Screening Unit (PHSU) demonstrates that screening programmes are detecting a number of potentially life-threatening conditions in pregnant women and newborn babies. PHSU Clinical Lead Dr Emilia Crighton says carrying out checks during pregnancy and in a baby's first few days of life is saving lives: "All pregnant women living in Greater Glasgow and Clyde are routinely offered screening for HIV, rubella, Hepatitis B and syphilis. Uptake is around 95% and while the numbers detected are small, the impact is huge.

"Over the last year, for example, we've diagnosed seven mothers who are HIV positive, who have then been able to start lifesaving treatment. Diagnosing mum before the baby is born means we can do a great deal to avoid HIV being transmitted to the baby: by taking the correct drugs, delivering by Caesarean section and avoiding breastfeeding we can greatly minimise the chances of the baby contracting HIV through mum."

Very young babies also benefit from the Newborn Bloodspot screening, which tests for phenylketonuria (PKU), congenital hypothyroidism (CHT) and cystic fibrosis (CF). Dr Crighton, a Public Health Medicine Consultant, says PKU screening is particularly important: "This is offered for 5-day old babies within NHSGGC, and uptake is around 96%. If PKU is left untreated it can cause irreversible brain damage but if the condition is detected and treated the baby's very likely to develop normally. Again, the numbers are fairly small but that can make the difference between serious lifelong brain damage and living a healthy life."

The PHSU runs eight separate screening programmes and is preparing a ninth, covering a number of conditions from cancers through to childhood deafness. The programmes can detect some cancers and other conditions in people who might not otherwise have been diagnosed, which has allowed them to start treatment and improve their health.

Around two thirds of the cervical cancer cases diagnosed in 2005 were detected by screening, and around a third last year - approximately 30 women in 2005 and 16 in 2006. Dr Crighton said: "It's very simple; screening is saving lives, day in and day out. Nearly 50 women who otherwise showed no symptoms, and who therefore may well not have been diagnosed until much later, were diagnosed and could begin treatment. Early detection of cancer can make an enormous difference to your eventual outcome.

"The number of women taking up the invitation to have a breast screening has gone up by around 10% locally since the early 1990s, from 61.9% of those eligible up to 71.8%. Rates of breast cancer are also up, but at the same time the number of deaths has dropped. That could suggest that screening may be helping to detect more cases of breast cancer at an earlier stage."

In April 2009 NHSGGC is expecting to implement the Scottish Bowel Screening Programme, which is being rolled out nationwide over two years. This will invite all men and women aged between 50 and 74 who are registered with a GP practice to use a testing kit at home. It is estimated that 307,000 people in Greater Glasgow and Clyde would be eligible to be invited to take part in the Bowel Screening programme every 2 years.

Within Greater Glasgow and Clyde there are approximately 750 - 830 new bowel cancer cases registered each year, and approximately 350 - 400 deaths. Assuming uptake of 50-52%, PHSU experts anticipate that each year 1628 people will have a positive screening result, of whom 1391 will go on to have a colonoscopy and then 137 will be diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Aside from the three cancer programmes, the PHSU also screens for Communicable Diseases in Pregnancy, Down's Syndrome and Neural Tube Defects, Newborn Bloodspot, Universal Newborn Hearing, Diabetic Retinopathy Screening and Pre-School Vision Screening.

However, the annual PHSU report also highlights where patients are not coming forward for screening. Dr Crighton says not everyone realises how important screening can be: "We want 100% uptake on all our screening programmes. In our diabetic retinopathy programme, which is offered to more than 50,000 people, uptake across Greater Glasgow and Clyde is between 37% and 47%. More than a fifth of all diabetic retinopathy screening appointments are missed.

"It's absolutely essential that people come forward for screening when they're invited, and not be afraid to do that. The vast majority of results are perfectly normal, or may indicate a relatively minor problem. For the minority of people who do have serious conditions, screening can mean early detection, quicker treatment and a greater chance of success."

ENDS

For more information contact NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Communications on 0141 201 4429.

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